May 30, 2019

Axios Login

📷 “Axios on HBO” is back! Season 2 will feature exclusive interviews with Jared Kushner, Janet Napolitano, Leon Panetta — as well as my interview with Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Tune in to Axios on HBO starting this Sunday 6pm ET/PT.

As for today's Login there's lots of good stuff within its 1,242 words.

1 big thing: Privacy legislation's time is running down

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As 2019 began, many in Washington and Silicon Valley predicted it would be the year Congress took action on national privacy legislation — but the year is half over, and momentum has seriously slowed, Axios' David McCabe reports.

Why it matters: While members of Congress negotiate behind closed doors on a comprehensive bill that the public has yet to see, state lawmakers are forging ahead on their own.

Details: The most closely-watched effort to produce a national privacy law is a working group with 6 members of the Senate Commerce Committee, traditionally a leader on internet issues.

  • Members of the group had indicated that they hoped to have produced a proposal by Memorial Day, sources said.
  • That milestone has now come and gone — although the group has added influential members, a possible sign of progress — with multiple sources telling Axios they expect to see a draft proposal this summer.

A person familiar with the committee’s efforts said the group was aiming to reach a bipartisan consensus, and has been meeting with outside parties.

  • Aides involved in the working group have been asking about how to tailor the rules so they don’t hamper small businesses, according to two sources. (Europe's rules have been criticized by industry for placing too much of a burden on startups.)
  • Senators have been mum about the sticking points in their discussions — but Democrats have long said that they'll only be willing to preempt states in exchange for substantial concessions from the industry.

The big picture: Other lawmakers have also failed to produce privacy proposals.

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee sent letters earlier this year to companies asking about their data collection practices, according to a source. But there's no indication of plans to move forward with a specific bill.
  • Democrats had signaled privacy legislation would be a priority when they retook the House last year. But major House committees haven’t moved forward with a bill, either.

The bottom line: Reaching consensus on bipartisan legislation is historically more difficult in an election year, so policymakers intent on crafting a stricter standard for the likes of Google and Facebook are running out of time.

Go deeper: Read David's full story here.

2. Changing tech for the next generation

Speaking of privacy, I spent most of Wednesday live streaming Common Sense Media's Designing for our Future conference — an event looking at how the tech industry could better serve the next generation. (I was planning to go in person but decided to keep my cold germs to myself.)

Why it matters: I spent basically a whole day listening to a webcast, which should tell you something — and it's not that I love webcasts. It's because the topic is important — especially for parents who wrestle with hard and persistent questions like which digital devices are ok and when should children start using them.

What we're hearing: Common Sense CEO Jim Steyer and crew amassed a smart collection of folks from the tech industry, academia and activist groups to talk about the impacts of technology on youth.

  • Center for Humane Technology founder Tristan Harris gave an eloquent summation of the problem and its scale.
  • Representatives from Mozilla, Wikipedia and offered up a range of ways that web services could take steps to protect privacy — like hashing e-mail addresses and truncating IP addresses to minimize data collection.
  • Common Sense also detailed its just-released study showing that 1 in 3 teens sleep with their phones and many more keep their phones a short reach away.

The most memorable discussion was among a panel of youths from Dave Eggers' 826 National, a writing program. More scary than their horror stories (and those were pretty scary): None of the teens would allow their younger selves to use a smartphone.

Yes, but: Despite lots of critiques of Facebook and Google and their business models, no one seemed to have a good alternative.

  • That is, how do you change an industry that benefits from attracting eyeballs and maximizing minutes spent? How do you keep companies from taking steps that maximize growth at the expense of users' wellbeing?

In the end, many agreed that regulation is probably a necessity — at least as an adjunct to, if not a replacement for, an industrywide shift in priorities.

My thought bubble: The conference made me want to re-evaluate my own smartphone use, as well as my family's.

3. Apple's competition chart protests too much

Screenshot from

Facing antitrust complaints from Spotify and others, Apple published a chart aiming to show all the ways in which its homegrown apps face competition.

Why it matters: Apple hopes the chart — and new website — will help convince regulators and others that its App Store offers a fair and level playing field. The company touts the many apps it says compete with the iPhone's calendar, camera, browser and other built-in apps.

Yes, but: Critics point out that the same chart also shows just how tough it is for those looking to compete with Apple head-on. In many cases, for example, users can't change the default from Apple's app to a rival.

  • In particular, arguing there's competition in the mobile browser realm strikes people as a stretch, since Apple won't let rivals use their own browsing engine, as former Apple engineer Nick Shearer pointed out.

The big picture: The U.S. Supreme Court recently allowed a suit by customers charging the App Store with monopolistic practices to move forward.

4. Modular smartphone dream endures via Moto Z4

Photo: Motorola

There's a lot to love about Lenovo's Moto Z line, which is now on its fourth iteration.

  • It's the one semi-successful effort at a modular smartphone, functioning as a perfectly good smartphone on its own, with the ability to add features like a better camera, smart speaker or projector via "Moto Mods."

What's new: Verizon used that capability to create with Motorola a 5G mod to make the Z3 its first 5G-capable phone and the Z4 will, naturally, also work with the 5G mod.

Yes, but: The Z line hasn't been enough of a commercial success to generate lots of add-ons. Indeed, there are no new mods to accompany this year's Moto Z4.

What's included:

  • New front and rear cameras use "quad pixel" technology to create sharper images. The Z4 also has Night Vision, Motorola's effort to offer dramatically better nighttime photography by combining parts of eight frames taken at different exposures. It's akin to the Night Sight feature on the latest Google Pixel phones.
  • The Z4 has a faster chip than last year's model, but it's a part of Qualcomm's midrange Snapdragon 600-series rather than last year's 800-series chip.
  • It has a big 3,600-milliamp-hour battery, with the option to add even more juice via a battery mod.
  • It carries a $499 suggested retail price. (Verizon, the only carrier to sell the Z4 directly, is offering a lower price for new customers.)

What's missing: It's not fully water-resistant, there's only one rear camera, and it uses older fingerprint sensor technology.

The bottom line: There are lots of other mid-range phones out there, but the Z4's versatility helps it stand out.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Facebook is holding its annual shareholders meeting.
  • Uber is slated to deliver its first earnings report as a public company.
  • I’ll be interviewing pioneering astronauts Mae Jemison and Peggy Whitson at Salesforce’s Trailhead DX at 3pm PT. You can watch a livestream here.
  • The Golden State Warriors face the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. (And to add in a tech angle, SF's tech community is betting against Toronto's tech entrepreneurs on the series, with the money raised going to education nonprofits.)

Trading Places

  • Dantley Davis is joining Twitter as head of design and research. Davis is a veteran of Netflix, Facebook and PayPal.
  • Georgia Tech's Jacob Eisenstein is joining Google's AI operation as a research scientist in Seattle.


  • Nancy Pelosi says Facebook enabled Russia's election interference. (Axios)
  • Medium's OneZero has an important read on the discrimination issues raised by a security company building an international database of people banned from various bars.
  • Scooter rental firm Bird has managed to attract the ire of veteran consumer advocate Ralph Nader. (Twitter)
  • Russian efforts to sow discord ahead of the 2020 elections appear focused on fear-mongering around health care issues, like 5G safety and measles. (Axios)
6. After you Login

Not everything in an art museum is art.